About 19 months ago, Generalised Anxiety Disorder crash-landed into my life. After a lengthy trip to A&E where I found out I was in tip-top physical shape I discovered I’d had my first panic attack.
The panic attacks kept coming and I quickly came to the conclusion that something had gone quite wrong. I was mum to a four-year-old and a two-year-old at the time. I knew something had snapped and I wasn’t well but I needed to be able to do life at the same time as attend therapy so I opted for medication.
Since then I have realised how very treatable anxiety is without the need for medication but we are all different and must find our own way with the support and advice from professionals.
One year later, having coped with moving to a different place and starting a new job. Life was coasting along and I felt it would be good to come off the medication. I approached it with the mind set of: it doesn’t matter if I can’t handle it and have to go back on them. I may as well give it a shot.
With the advice of my GP (this is essential), I started the withdrawal process. It hasn’t been easy. It feels a bit like I made the beast have a long nap and now it’s woken up and I have to learn to deal with it. Looking back, I can see some things I could have done differently to avoid awakening the beast in such a disruptive way.
1. Have a game plan.
It’s easy to think we wouldn’t be that cocky one who would go to the GP for advice but then not follow it. It is important to follow the advice given for your particular medication and take it slow. If you’re feeling fine and you’re too busy with work or remembering, it can be easy to miss that check-up appointment and just make the decision yourself to drop your dose some more or stop taking them altogether.
Don’t go by how you feel and continue to live as if you’re not making any changes. Remember, it’s a long game. After you’ve stopped taking them you must see yourself as delicate and in need of care and attention. So keep doing some or all of the following…
2. Practice meditation and breathing techniques every day when you are on the medication and feeling fine.
My therapist told me to use a meditation app. When did I download it? When I was experiencing panic attacks after withdrawing from medication. I could have been using it for a year prior and prepared my mind for the jarring it was going to get from my snatching away some chemicals it had become used to. She also advised me to practise calming breathing techniques so that they become automatic. Did I? Heck no. I didn’t need them right then. Rather than berate myself, I’ve decided to tell you so you can avoid my naïve mistakes.
3. See your doctor for reassurance about any physical or mental symptoms.
That’s what your GP is there for. To support you through the process and that might include you rocking up and saying you’re getting tingling sensations or chest pain and asking if it’s normal.
4. See your therapist if you have one or consider finding one for as long as you need it through withdrawal.
After we moved I left my lovely therapist behind and didn’t feel the need to see one here. If you do already have a therapist then I would suggest continuing to see them or starting up sessions again as you go through withdrawal. Part of coming off the medication can be rediscovering your emotions.
A few days after my last pill it was Father’s Day. My dad passed away three years prior and this was a contributing factor to my anxiety disorder. I was incredibly tearful all day long but not just from thinking about him. Everything even remotely sad or happy set me off. If I’d seen a three-legged puppy I’d have been inconsolable.
5. Tell family and friends so they can support you.
You will need lots of support and understanding. Imagine yourself running a race. Just as you hit the pain barrier and you want to give up you see your family on the side-lines, cheering you on raucously. It would make all the difference, right? It’s the same with mental health recovery. There are peaks and troughs and you often need reminders that you can do it, you are doing well, and are on the right track.
6. Exercise and cut alcohol, caffeine and sugar.
Exercise releases endorphins, helps you sleep better and gives you a sense of accomplishment. To name just a few of the helpful results of a 20-minute run or HIIT session (there are loads of free ones on YouTube).
Alcohol makes anxiety worse, usually the next day, and caffeine and sugar can just trigger that over-stimulated feeling your mind connects with panic. Lots of water and healthy foods (high protein and good fat to avoid sugar crashes) will bolster your body and mind.
7. Avoid over-stimulating TV.
When I was withdrawing I started watching a drama series on Netflix. It wasn’t a bleak and disturbing scandi noir but with hindsight, I can see that the constant underlying tension and generally negative themes of deception and competitive win or cry mantras were affecting my sensitive mind. Stick with some funny, light-hearted watching or ones you’ve watched before. Better yet, don’t watch it at all and…
8. Get creative or learn a new skill.
As you create you make new connections in the brain. Moreover, you are absorbing your attention and focus into an activity that doesn’t have a potentially dire outcome. There is a reason why gardening can help your well-being. It keeps you busy and proffers a sense of satisfaction as you problem-solve your way to a glorious haven of natural beauty.
Yet the state of one’s flower beds won’t keep most people who garden as a hobby up at night (unless you’ve some prize-winning petunias that took you years to cultivate). Happiness is mostly felt when you’re fully immersed in a task that has purpose and meaning. Learn a language, play an instrument, take up a craft, learn to play chess – after all, why couldn’t you do anything you set your mind to? You don’t have to do it well, after all…
If you have been affected by the issues discussed in this article, you can contact the Samaritans here
Writer, wife, mother of two and project coordinator for a social care service. In recovery from anxiety and perfectionism. I try to be creative at least once a week on what I call #createnight. I paint, draw and write stories, poems, pieces of creative writing and articles. Avid reader and believer in the power of stories to change everything.
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